Where and when do the Amish worship?
Most readers of Amish-themed fiction would answer that church services happen every other week, and that families in a church district take turns hosting the congregation.
And this would be right—most of the time.
A couple of years ago, I became interested in learning more about how some of the various Amish groups came into being and what the differences were in the expressions of their faith. While researching the roots of the Beachy Amish, I discovered that a hundred years ago an Amish community spanned the border between Pennsylvania and Pennsylvania.
Even more interesting was that in the 1880’s, the members of this district constructed four nearly identical buildings, two in Pennsylvania and two in Maryland. Instead of rotating between homes, the congregation rotated between the four locations—Summit Mills and Flag Run in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, and Maple Glen and Cherry Glade in Garrett County, Maryland.
And even more interesting is that at the time these four meetinghouses were constructed, tensions were already festering. Some of the Casselman Valley Amish were attracted to slightly more modern practices, such as Sunday school classes for children. Others, not wanting to be tainted by the Protestants, held to the Old Order ways.
These two groups worked hard at coexisting for many years, including sharing meetinghouses. For instance, they amicably decided that the more traditional believers would worship in Pennsylvania, and those open to some change would worship in Maryland. The farms were all within a few miles of each other. Ministers served the separated congregations based on where their own farms were.
In the early twentieth century strident opinions on both sides of the question of adopting new practices—and whether shunning was called for—pushed the groups apart. These are the circumstances that eventually led to the formation of the Beachy Amish, who adopted more technology in the 1920s.
I was delighted to discover some old photographs—very grainy—of these old meetinghouses—and even pictures of original “preachers’ tables” from the Flag Run and Maple Glen meetinghouses, two locations I use in my story, Meek and Mild. And I learned a “spit box” or spittoon was kept under the preacher’s table in at least one meetinghouse!
The characters of Meek and Mild are caught in these tensions. As I wrote their story, it was inspirational and helpful to have images before me of what their worship setting would have been like.
Olivia Newport first became interested in writing Amish stories when she discovered a family line tracing back to the 1738 arrival of Amish families in the original Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Her Amish-themed novels are Accidentally Amish, In Plain View, Taken for English (in the Valley of Choice series), and Wonderful Lonesome and now Meek and Mild in the Amish Turns of Time series. She also writes historical and contemporary fiction. Olivia lives in sunny Colorado, where she enjoys gloating about—er, being grateful for—the gorgeous mountain views.
Purchase Olivia’s books here.